Community of learners

What does it take to get an open learning centre used and
accepted? Lex Multipart believes the local partnerships can hold the key

Lex Multipart, a specialist service provider in outsourced logistics, has
come a long way since launching its open learning centre (OLC), a partnership
developed with Preston College, in November 1998.

The centre was set up primarily to train Lex Multipart staff, but it was
also to provide learning opportunities to those outside the company. Lex
Multipart provided the building, services, fixtures and fittings and Preston
College provided the equipment and expertise of its own personnel to staff the
facility. Both parties benefited: Lex Multipart gained an on-site,
state-of-the-art facility at its largest site, the distribution centre at
Chorley, Lancashire; Preston College gained a satellite centre in a previously
untapped target population.

Preston College runs the OLC as an enterprise and can supplement its core
business by attracting additional government funding based on the number of
learners. On-site staff number two full-time trainers, including the centre
manager, and three part-time staff. All report to the Preston College
management team.

Adaptability

For Lex Multipart, the success of the partnership with the college has
proved to be the adaptability of the centre. It meets the needs of the company
both for flexible, computer-based learning for its employees and as a site for
the delivery of classroom-based training. It also gives the company the chance
to raise its profile with local people and businesses.

Things have moved on apace since 1998, as the centre has developed and
gained recognition. Originally equipped with 16 PCs set up to run with
Microsoft/Lotus products and to provide Internet access, the centre’s opening
prompted awareness of the World Wide Web within the company.

At that time, however, only three IT training packages were available.
Programs run on the Internet for use by managers in the automotive sector was
the key factor to recognition for web knowledge and application. The centre
then offered free Internet access for all employees, web literacy throughout
the business grew, and it was accredited for the BBC Webwise campaign and IT
For All.

Painless implementation

When Lex Multipart converted to full-scale use of Microsoft desktop
applications last year, the project was implemented painlessly as training on
the applications had started in the previous year. The flexible approach to
programmes allowed employees to access training with minimum disruption to
working times.

Early in 1999, Preston College was accredited to run the European Computer
Driving Licence (ECDL) which became the centre’s main product. In addition,
evening language classes were offered to employees and the public. Classes in
French, German, Spanish and Japanese attracted large numbers, with some classes
running to intermediate level. The Spanish students took their learning all the
way to GCSE level.

At the same time, the logistics team involved in the roll-out of the
company’s operation in Metz, France, undertook intensive French studies.
Leading on from this, Lex Multipart won the DTI’s large company category
Languages for Export Award 1999.

The OLC has supported links with local companies, not least through the
partnership with Hitachi Automotive Products to run Japanese classes for its
employees alongside the Lex Multipart Hyundai account management team to
educate them in both language and culture. The classes were successful,
covering a mix of employees, including shop-floor workers, line management and
salespeople.

Customer research carried out to support bids for external funding showed
that the centre was attracting learners who had been out of education for some
time, and those who would not go into a traditional college environment.
Despite this, applications for grants from the University for Industry, the
European Social Fund Objective 3 and the DTI Partnership at Work were
unsuccessful. However, the non-dependence on public funding has proved to be a
strength by creating a challenge to the OLC team to seek initiatives that
genuinely contribute towards its success.

Last year, the centre moved to larger premises with improved site access and
room for the number of workstations to be increased to 22.

Today’s centre is a modern and innovative development, reflecting Lex
Multipart’s commitment to learning and development and is available for use by
all employees, customers and suppliers as well as the public. Now fully
accredited by Learndirect, the centre takes advantage of the most modern
approaches to learning using a flexible combination of online materials,
support literature and personal tutors. The benefit of this approach is that
users can access learning at all times and in blocks to suit the demands of
their job and lifestyle.

New opportunities

Technologies and government investment have created a range of learning
opportunities that will take the centre beyond IT training opportunities.
Technology also enables learners to enhance their studies from PCs with
Internet access at home or at work.

Products on offer include:

– The full range of Learndirect courses: essential skills, IT, business and
management, business studies, Learning for Life modular courses

– Preston College IT courses including: Start, RSA CLAIT, IBT2, ECDL

– Taught courses tailored to company and individual needs

A benchmarking exercise on learning and management development carried out
in 1999 with Ryder, a competitor in the logistics sector, showed Lex Multipart’s
learning opportunities – particularly the OLC – to be among the top in the
sector.

Never content to rest on our laurels, we have made presentations to parent
company Lex Service on linking Learndirect with the Lex intranet to increase
opportunities.

To maintain momentum, Lex Multipart and Preston College hold regular
steering committee meetings.

The committee has several aims: to identify future opportunities for the
centre; to find ways to improve the already buoyant enrolment levels; to review
the continuous updating and development of courses; and to look at recognition
awards for existing learners. An example of such an initiative is the learner
of the month award, which reflects the range and level of achievement made by
individuals of all ages from a variety of backgrounds.

Our latest initiative is bringing increased learning opportunities to our
distribution centre workforce with the development of a team of "learner
representatives".

– Lex Multipart group managing director, John Stephenson, will be
speaking at the Wolce conference seminar on 10 October on the effective
implementation of open learning.

Learner reps promote opportunities

A ground-breaking initiative in the development of its staff has become one
of Lex Multipart’s main success stories this year, namely the appointment of
three "learner reps" within its autologistics division at the Chorley
distribution centre.

Learning and development staff, operations management and trade union
representatives worked closely together to develop a process to bring training
to the fore within the distribution centre. The main aim was to open up
learning opportunities to the workforce, many of whom have been out of learning
for several years, while at the same time tapping into the superb facilities
provided through the on-site open learning centre.

To get the ball rolling, trade union representatives attended a series of
three Union Learning Fund conferences in London, backed by the TUC. The learner
reps attended Flag (Front Line Advice & Guidance) training in June and
July, with advanced Flag training planned later in the year. The company, in
partnership with Preston College, held open days for employees who wanted to
know more about the centre and the products on offer, with many enrolling on
the day. Already more than 30 staff have successfully completed the Certificate
in Health and Safety – First Principles, awarded by the Chartered Institute of
Environmental Health.

The process is weighted towards the employee. The company funds OLC training
courses covering START, CLAIT, ECDL and/or Learndirect products and has
committed to look at any other reasonable requests on their own merits. It
grants time off wherever possible, so that training takes place half in the
company’s time and half in the learner’s time. The suggested course duration is
used to calculate the appropriate time off, which has to be agreed up front by
line management and entered into the time and attendance records.

Although still in its infancy, the process is working well. An OLC steering
committee meets once a month. Consisting of staff from learning and
development, operations and learner reps, it monitors the process and agrees
what works well. It will look at areas for improvement and ensure that all
employees are given equal opportunity to learn new skills or develop existing
ones.

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